A couple of weeks ago my Facebook newsfeed was invaded by a selection of animals urging me to go to the Rabbit Room Store and pre-order Andrew Peterson’s new album, The Burning Edge of Dawn. Never one to argue with a magical fairy squirrel beast, I swiftly obeyed. If you did the same, you will be familiar by now with the track “The Rain Keeps Falling.” Some songs become meaningful over time, the truth of their lyrics gradually finding a path into your soul. Others arrive without fanfare and claim a place in your story before the end of the first verse. For me, “The Rain Keeps Falling” landed firmly in the second category.
As a writer, I am always tempted to write about struggle in terms of “we” and “our” rather than “I” and “my.” If I’m honest, it is not generally because of a deep sense of solidarity on the journey but rather a literary tool, allowing me to name my pain while at the same time maintaining a respectable distance. The truth is that the life of faith is often fraught with loneliness. Sometimes, when the heavens seem silent and the stories of victory are a painful reminder of your own weariness, hope is a song that is bleeding from the battle even as it whispers peace. To be both real and vulnerable in the pursuit and telling of the true story is not without risk, and I am grateful to Andrew, and others like him, for their courageous honesty. Not only because the result is stirringly beautiful but because it is a reminder that, even when we pass through a season of shadows, we are not alone.
I had the opportunity recently to spend a day with an amazing group of women who had invited me to share some thoughts at the beginning of a quiet retreat. As a textbook introvert, it was the kind of invitation that appealed to me. A short session followed by silence. Before I arrived I had subconsciously given God an agenda. I would share briefly with the women, then He and I would find a quiet spot on the nearby beach where He would show up and shine some light into the things I have been wrestling with recently. Somewhere along the unmarked path that wound through a forest and down onto the beach, I took a wrong turn. Instead of coming out through the trees onto the open shoreline, I found myself in a large cove. The wind was cold and the sand was blowing through the sea grass that stuck in spikes through the small dunes. I sat there for a long time, watching as the sun threatened to break through the clouds, in the end sending only fleeting shafts of lights that briefly set the sand on fire before disappearing and leaving it grey once more. By the time I trudged back up the muddy path I was shivering with cold and I had sand in my shoes. The silence did not turn out the way I had hoped.
I thought the day was over. It turned out that God was just beginning to speak. Inside the old house the women gathered on mismatched floral sofas and began to share their stories. Real stories, told through tears but brimming with hope. These women understood that they carried treasure in clay jars but, more than that, they understood that the very cracks we try to polish and disguise can be the channels through which God’s grace trickles out and breathes life into the parched ground. Sometimes, in the struggle, it is easy to let ourselves believe that we have nothing left to say. It may be that those are the times when our stories most need to be told.
C. S. Lewis famously said, “True friendship is born when one person looks at another and says, “What? You too! I thought I was the only one!” There are certainly days when God’s voice is heard most clearly in the silence but sometimes He uses the honesty of a friend to remind us that the pain and longing themselves are evidence that this world is not our home.
At the beginning of the book of Revelation, as John prepares to share glimpses of a world that is greater and more real than the one we can touch and see, he introduces himself with these words; “I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus…” (1v9). There is so much in just that introduction to inspire hope. In the midst of his own isolation he aligns himself with those who are tracing a path through dark places, urging them to persevere in the knowledge that, while the struggle is passing, the kingdom they fight for is not. In fact, the very presence of shadows is proof that there is light.
Heidi Johnston is the author of Life in the Big Story and is currently the Rabbit Room’s only Irish contributor. She studied law at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and now, amongst other things, teaches a class on “Poetic and Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament” at Belfast Bible College. Heidi is passionate about getting people to engage with the Bible and has a fascination with the book of Deuteronomy.